NY State Expands Fair Housing Testing to Combat Housing Discrimination

Real Estate In-Depth | March 1, 2023

ALBANY—New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Feb. 24 a $2.2-million expansion of New York’s Fair Housing Testing Program designed to root out discrimination in home rental and sale transactions.

New York State has partnered with six nonprofit organizations across the state to deploy undercover testers to act as potential renters and home seekers. The expansion will increase proactive investigations of suspected housing discrimination and enhance education and outreach efforts on fair housing rights, including for individuals with a history of criminal system involvement.

“As we expand access to housing across New York State, I am using all of the resources at my disposal to combat housing discrimination and ensure that all New Yorkers are treated with dignity, fairness, and respect when seeking the housing of their choice,” Gov. Hochul said. “Our investment in this crucial program sends a clear message: housing discrimination will not be tolerated here in New York.”

The Fair Housing Testing Program is administered by New York State Homes and Community Renewal’s Fair and Equitable Housing Office and expands the pilot testing program established by the office in 2021.

Marlene Zarfes is the Executive Director of White Plains-based Westchester Residential Opportunities. WRO has entered into a contract with New York State to conduct undercover fair housing testing in the Lower Hudson Valley region.

HCR has finalized contracts with six organizations to conduct testing in 48 counties including Nassau and Suffolk, Westchester, Albany and Schenectady counties, as well as the five boroughs of New York City. The fair housing testing and outreach partners are: CNY Fair Housing, the Fair Housing Justice Center, Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Legal Assistance of Western New York, Long Island Housing Services, and Westchester Residential Opportunities. These nonprofit housing agencies will dispatch trained fair housing “testers” to act as potential renters or home seekers to uncover unlawful discriminatory treatment by sellers, brokers, and landlords.

The program’s outreach and training will focus on fair housing protections including for those with arrest and conviction histories. The outreach includes advertisements and social media messaging, training events, and professional education classes. The program also provides continuity to the Eliminating Barriers to Housing New York testing and outreach program launched by the New York Office of the Attorney General in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners.

New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said, “Housing is an essential human right and we must continue to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that all New Yorkers have a fair and equal opportunity to live in the communities of their choice. Our Fair Housing Testing program complements Governor Hochul’s New York Housing Compact, which will proactively address disparities in housing access, exclusionary zoning, and other barriers that impede fair housing goals, and help us build a better and more equitable New York for all.”

Marlene Zarfes, Executive Director of Westchester Residential Opportunities, said, “This work is critical to ensuring a housing market in the Lower Hudson Valley in which every household has an equal opportunity to participate, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, source of income, disability or any other protected class.”

Elizabeth Grossman, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Justice Center, said, “The Fair Housing Justice Center is immensely grateful for this support from HCR and we are eager to get to work on new testing and outreach activities. Testing remains a critical tool for fair housing organizations to use in the fight against discrimination, and we look forward to conducting robust investigations throughout the New York City region. The outreach funding will provide an enhanced opportunity for us to increase awareness of fair housing rights and responsibilities, especially the strong protections that New York State has put in place to counter source-of-income discrimination, and to provide training to tenants, home seekers, and housing providers. Thanks to the support of HCR, people throughout our service area will know that they can come to us for help, and that our programs will get them the help they need.”

Ian Wilder, Executive Director of Long Island Housing Services, said, “Long Island Housing Services is grateful to New York State for supporting much needed fair housing work. This funding allows us to assist in enforcing the very necessary protections afforded under New York State law. Even more so, it enables Long Islanders move toward a home that we all strive for where our neighbors can choose to live wherever they want free of discrimination. Only by overcoming housing discrimination can we free Long Islanders to live their best lives.”

More information on Fair Housing can be found on HCR’s website: hcr.ny.gov/feho.